The New England Patriots opened the 2015 NFL regular season with an impressive 28-21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quarterback Tom Brady was incredible in the victory, as was wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back Dion Lewis and the Patriots’ offensive line. However, the star of the show was tight end Rob Gronkowski, who the Steelers could not even come close to defending.
While the Steelers clearly put an emphasis on stopping the big tight end, Gronkowski still finished the game with five receptions for 94 yards and three touchdowns. He was absolutely unstoppable on Thursday night, but that is not surprising. We have come to expect performances like this from Gronkowski, and he rarely disappoints.
With an incredible combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism, Gronkowski is far and away the best tight end in the entire NFL, and is probably the biggest match-up nightmare the league has to offer. In fact, the argument for making him the greatest tight end of all-time could certainly be made, and he is only 26-years-old!
Gronk’s dominating performance got me thinking, is he the single best player in the NFL right now? In recent times, this conversation has typically been between Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.Aug 30, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) on the sideline during the second half of a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Texans defeated the Saints 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Both Rodgers and Watt are incredible players, and it is hard to disagree with either player being considered the best in the league. However, arguments could be made against them as well.
Watt is the best defensive player in the entire NFL, and the best player at his position by a wide margin. That being said, he has never been able to lead the Texans to huge success on the field. The Texans were great in Watt’s first two years in the league, but they never made it out of the divisional round of the playoffs.
While it was not close to his fault, the Texans went 2-14 in 2013 with Watt starting all 16 games. They were then an average 9-7 team with him leading the way last season. Watt is the furthest thing from the problem with the team in Houston, but the fact that he has yet to lead them to playoff success knocks him down a peg in my eyes. Watt is great, but I would like to see him win more before saying he is the best player in the NFL.
Rodgers has the Super Bowl victory, and is probably the best player at his position in the NFL. That being said, it is much less clear than it is with Gronkowski or Watt. I think you could consider Rodgers, Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or maybe even Drew Brees as the best quarterback in the NFL.Aug 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers before the game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
I would personally choose Rodgers, but with Gronkowski and Watt, there is no question. Fair or not, simply having to wonder if he is the best at his position makes it hard to imagine him as the best in the game.
I think it is time for Gronkowski to start being put in this conversation. He has been a major part of many successful Patriots’ teams, including the Super Bowl victory of last season. Now, it is certainly fair to point out that Gronkowski probably has a better supporting cast, especially with Brady throwing him the ball.
That being said, we have seen the Patriots’ offense without Gronkowski in recent years. Brady is not the same player when his big tight end is not in the lineup. After Gronkowski’s dominant season in 2014, and superb start to 2015, I think the decision has to now include three players.
Who is the best player in the NFL? Hard to say; but I can narrow it down with confidence to Watt, Rodgers and Gronkowski.